Rwandan President Paul Kagame has said for the first time that he plans to run for a fourth term in elections due to be held next year.
“Yes, I am indeed a candidate,” Kagame, who has ruled over the country with an iron fist for decades, told Jeune Afrique, a French-language news magazine, in an interview published online on Tuesday.
“I am pleased with the confidence that Rwandans have placed in me. I will always serve them, as long as I can,” the 65-year-old was quoted as saying.
The Rwandan government in March decided to synchronise the dates for its parliamentary and presidential elections, which are due in August next year.
Kagame had previously not made his intentions clear, but presided over controversial constitutional amendments in 2015 that allowed him to run for more terms and stay in power until 2034.
A former rebel chief, Kagame became president in April 2000 but has been the country’s de facto leader since the end of the 1994 genocide.
He was returned to office — with more than 90 percent of the vote — in elections in 2003, 2010 and 2017.
Kagame’s only known challenger in the upcoming elections is opposition Green Party leader Frank Habineza, who announced in May his intention to run in 2024.
He said the president’s plan to stand again next year “is not a surprise”.
“We are not scared of him, we are getting organised better as a political party to put up a better campaign than we did in 2017. We are confident,” he told AFP in Kigali.
“Democracy is a struggle so we shall continue to fight democratically for political space and democracy, rule of law and human rights in Rwanda.”
– ‘Prisoners in their own country’ –
While Rwanda lays claim to being one of the most stable countries in Africa, rights groups accuse Kagame of ruling in a climate of fear, stifling dissent and free speech.
In 2021, “Hotel Rwanda” hero and outspoken Kagame critic Paul Rusesabagina was sentenced to 25 years in jail on terrorism charges, following his arrest the previous year when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed instead in Kigali in what his family called a kidnapping.
Freed from jail in March this year and flown to the United States following a presidential pardon, Rusesabagina released a video message in July, saying that Rwandans were “prisoners in their own country”.
The country was ranked 131 out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
Asked in July 2022 if he would seek re-election, Kagame said he would “consider running for another 20 years.
“Elections are about people choosing,” he told the France 24 news channel in an interview.
Kagame was re-elected head of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front party at its national congress in April this year.
Many of those who opposed Kagame, even within the RPF, have over the years been imprisoned, killed or have fled into exile.
Kagame was just 36 when the RPF forced out Hutu extremists blamed for the genocide in which some 800,000 people, mainly Tutsi but also moderate Hutus, were murdered between April and July 1994.